8 posts categorized "Dance"

March 17, 2008

PLANET B-BOY

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Gettin' Jiggy Wid It

International B-Boy Battle Buzzes Onscreen
By Cole Smithey

ColeSmithey.com The mid ‘80s urban dance form of breakdancing is alive and well in director Benson Lee’s joyful celebration of the ingenuity and energy expressed by international "B-boy" dance crews competing in Braunschweig, Germany at the 2005 "Battle of the Year."

The director sketches the essential elements of early hip-hop rebel culture — consisting of graffiti, DJ spinning, and the dance moves that sprung up in South Bronx streets during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Clips from influential breakdance movies like "Flashdance" and "Breakin’" show Hollywood’s calculation of the underground dance movement that inspired young audiences to take up hip-hop dance.

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For the typically impoverished boys from all corners of the globe, performing their outrageous choreographies in front of 10,000 fans at the Battle of the Year is more than a competition; it is a statement of individual character and national identity.

In France, a dancer who calls himself "Crazy Monkey" does head-and-shoulder windmill spins on the floor that are mind-blowing. He levitates upside-down like a spinning top. Crazy Monkey’s gymnastic athleticism also enables his tall frame to flip in mid-air like a life-size cartoon character. Beside Crazy Monkey is a 12-year-old white kid who clearly knows how to "pop and lock" as a way of confronting his parents’ self-admitted racism with an in-your-face approach. Known for their strong sense of nuance and style, the French dance crew exhibit polished dance skills that illustrate why they are among the top five teams competing for the title of World’s Best B-boy Crew.

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In Las Vegas, a crew of comparatively spoiled hip-hoppers call themselves "Knucklehead Zoo." They practice a theatrically stagy brand of breakdancing that comes with a Vegas-approved slathering of left-over Vaudville cheese.

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The film’s astonishing displays of physically demanding dance moves become evermore compelling as it compares the raw power of the South Korean "Gamblerz" team against their rival squad "Last for One." Dancers make human pyramids, dance atop one another, and use the floor as a trampoline. Their energetic displays are explosive yet controlled, and tempered with humor.

Politics rears its ugly head as one dancer explains South Korea's policy of a compulsory two-year military service that will end his dance career once the event in Germany is over. Glimpses like these into the cultural realities of the dancers' personal lives gives the movie a heart and soul beyond the flash and spectacle of the film’s cliched contest-climax format.

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However, the unavoidable strength of "Planet B-Boy" comes from B-boy booster Thomas Hergenröther who created and organized the not-for-profit "Battle of the Year" (called BOTY) in Hannover, Germany in 1990. Without Hergenröther’s global vision, it’s entirely possible that the art of hip-hop battle dancing might have all but vanished by now. Hergenröther presides over the battle of the culturally diverse festivities with an egalitarian passion for the hard work that goes into each of the teams’ performances. He admires the cultural differences that bring contrast to the dances.

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Dance is an ever-changing art form that has been enriched by the liberating efforts of B-boy dancers who stamp their personalities on every hand gesture and stomp they crush into the ground. "Planet B-Boy" takes a step toward bringing together foreign communities by sharing a communal model of freedom of expression--the freedom of movement.

Not Rated. 95 mins.

3 Stars

Cozy Cole

ColeSmithey.com

January 11, 2007

STOMP THE YARD

Clubfooted Indoctrination 

"Stepping" Gets Trotted Out as One More Dance Craze

StomptheyardLike every other dance movie with "street credentials" (see "Take The Lead" or "Step Up") "Stomp The Yard" dangles the carrot of a finale dance-off competition to ward off any issues of narrative inadequacy that might distract from the forcefully undulating nubile bodies pushed to their contorted limits.

DJ Williams (Columbus Short) is a talented hip-hop dancer forced to relocate from Los Angeles to Atlanta for college after his brother is murdered by a rival crew of street dancers. Evidently, street dancers are a violent bunch as a rule. Talk about idiotic. Those rival drug gangs — I mean street dancers, play rough. DJ moves in with his aunt and uncle in order to attend Atlanta’s historically black Truth University where he is exposed to the fraternity tradition of "stepping."

Stomp

Evolved from African "gumboot dance," the group dance style combines rhythmically dynamic steps with chants and percussive hand movements maintaining two independent military cadences. DJ’s sense of solitary individuality dissipates as he determines to steal the affection of April (Megan Good) from her privileged-but-robotic boyfriend Grant (Darrin Henson) of the Mu Gamma Xi frat. At heart, DJ is a born follower. After joining underdog stepping fraternity Theta Nu Theta (Mu Gamma Xi’s rival frat) DJ has to figure out more new ways to keep dancing in the limelight.

Stomptheyard

From a dance standpoint "stepping" is a confrontational and mocking type of primal activity conceived to intimidate competitors by expressing a military intent. The subtext is an open invitation to violence, but like the head-cutting rap face-offs shown in "8 Mile" there is a silent contract that the displays are merely a way of letting off steam for testosterone-driven egotistical young men unsure of where to stick their masculinity. In the context of fraternity spirit, steppers are an equivalent to a drumline marching band — parade and party — all in one. The Mu Gamma Xi identify with howling wolves while the Theta Nu Thetas present themselves as hissing pythons when they present their step routines. Oooooh hissing snakes. Scary. 

Stomp

What newbie screenwriter Robert Adetuyi ("Code Name: The Cleaner") and music video director Sylvain White ("I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer") intend is to reinvent the clunky step moves as an extension of freestyle hip-hop under an umbrella of collegiate comradeship.

Theta Nu Theta’s leader Sylvester (Brian White) voices crucial theme lines when he boasts of a lasting bond of brotherhood that DJ will enjoy for as long as he lives if he joins the fraternity. The scene comes before DJ walks through the school’s Heritage Hall where photos of fraternity and sorority members like Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and Michael Jordan silently endorse membership in the groups as a gateway to advantage and success. There’s a glaring disconnect between the indelible person that DJ seems to be and his indoctrination into a populist affiliation of wannabe followers.

Yard

The shell game for DJ’s rebellious identity becomes further obscured when Grant runs a history check on DJ and turns over the information about DJ’s part in his brother’s death to the school’s provost Doctor Palmer (Allan Louis), April’s overly protective father. The movie slips into soap opera territory for DJ to square off against his girlfriend’s autocratic dad even as his genteel aunt brings her own romantic past to bear with the provost in his uncomfortably populated office. Soap bubbles form.

StompYard

In the over-stated final competition between the wolves and the pythons, choreographers Dave Scott ("You Got Served") and Jesus Maldonado present an evocative, if not convincing, amalgam of street style hip-hop, krumping, and stepping that the filmmakers fumble to dramatize with multiple camera angles and slow-motion sequences. The effect is a generic blend of coordinated group movement embellished with primal energy and raw anger. Who are these impressionable youth, and what will they wake up to when they realize that their devotion to fellowship is a promise glimpsed in a rearview mirror? That question never arises in "Stomp the Yard" because the story isn’t the sum of its parts. Rather, it's just a bunch of locking, popping, and posing. If you've seen one street dance movie, you've seen them all.

Rated PG-13. 115 mins. (C) (Two Stars)

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Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

August 09, 2006

STEP UP

Line Dancing
Hip-Hop And Ballet Don't Mix

Step_upThe dubious concept of blending ballet with hip-hop dancing is explored as far as line dance choreography will allow in this cliché-riddled romance. The film coasts entirely on the strength of charismatic leads Jenna Dewan and Channing Tatum. Tyler Gage (Tatum) is a ghetto hoodlum sentenced to community service at Baltimore’s Maryland School of the Arts for trashing the school’s stage facilities with his car-thief buddies. Cupid’s arrow finds its mark when Tyler offers to stand in as Ballerina Nora’s (Dewan) dance partner in her upcoming senior showcase. Nora’s fickle demeanor and Tyler’s lack of focus threaten to undermine the couple’s romance even as the psychic burden of Tyler’s inner-city background amplifies his sense of desperation.

Stepup

Tyler is a white kid growing up in a predominantly African-American neighborhood. He passes his time stealing cars and working small-time hustles with his best friend Mac (Damaine Radcliff) and Mac's feisty kid brother Skinny (De'Shawn Washington). The three buddies are goofing around one night when Skinny breaks a window on the ground level of a large building. He disappears inside. Tyler and Mac follow the boy and explore the empty halls of what turns out to be an arts school. In a telling scene the three boys find the school's auditorium and try on carious costumes that inspire them into a thoughtless frenzy of vandalism. The kids view artistic endeavors with anti-intellectual contempt. When a security guard arrives Tyler allows himself to be captured to let his friends escape.

Stepup

Tyler quickly trades in his mop for a girlfriend after he is sentenced to perform community service as a janitor at the vandalized school. That Tyler so effortlessly casts off his court-appointed janitorial duties in favor of dancing with Nora is a sizable pothole in a highly-rutted story. Silly dance sequences propel the movie into a tailspin reminiscent of a hummingbird with motion sickness.

Step Up Movie Trailer (2006) | 2000's Movie Guide

Choreographer Anne Fletcher (who choreographed on the masterfully slight “Bring It On”) commits an obvious mistake in designing the dance sequences in her directorial debut. “Step Up,” as the film’s title vaguely signals, is a story about dance, and more specifically the potential synthesis between the highbrow art of ballet with the street dance form of hip-hop. But the screenwriters (Melissa Rosenberg and Duane Adler) fail to delineate any mutual antipathy between practitioners of these vastly divergent styles. It falls to the choreographer, in this case an overburdened neophyte director, to relate that aspect to the story.

Stepup

Sadly, no number of endless dance sequences can get the job done. When Tyler and Nora go to a club together Fletcher sends the entire crowd on the dance floor into an embarrassing variation on the “electric slide” that middle-aged suburban housewives dream about performing at the next wedding they attend.

Stepup

"Step Up" shares unfortunate similarities with this year's other high school dance movie "Take The Lead," which starred Antonio Banderas as a ballroom dance teacher who teaches life's lessons to a posse of underprivileged kids. Just as that film relied upon a gratuitous sub-plot of urban violence, "Step Up" makes a special effort to exact a frivolous pound of flesh from a secondary character. An unnecessary death occurs late in the story, apparently in order to set up a phony conflict that forces Tyler and Mac to make peace and behave more responsibly.

Screen Shot 2020-06-03 at 11.38.35 PM

The film scarcely grazes the surface of its primary subjects: dance and the struggle of impoverished and privileged teens alike to make it in the inner city. No one in the story tries hard enough to make us care about either. Neither did the filmmakers. 

Rated PG-13. 103 mins.

2 Stars

COLE SMITHEY

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon. Thanks a lot pal!

Cole Smithey on Patreon

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